Russell Westbrook return big for Thunder
by Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
It didn’t take long for Russell Westbrook to put his own shocking return in the proper perspective Sunday night.
Not long before the Oklahoma City Thunder star would take the court against the Phoenix Suns, he was asked if his game would be rusty considering he had been scheduled to miss another three to five weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Oct. 1.
“I expect to win,” countered Westbrook, who tore his meniscus at the outset of the playoffs last April and required a second surgery to fix a loose stitch that had caused swelling in the knee.
It’s not that the Thunder wouldn’t have won games without their floor leader, but Kevin Durant would surely have had back problems from carrying that sort of load and they wouldn’t have been anything close to elite. More importantly, their slipping status in the stacked Western Conference would likely have cost them home-court advantage in the playoffs. Translation: those chances at a title were somewhere between slim and none.
But the larger lesson here, the one taught last May when Memphis disposed of the Westbrook-less Thunder in five games in the second round of the playoffs and which held true again in the first two games of this regular season, is that it’s time for Westbrook to be appreciated from here to forevermore. There’s an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder component to his comeback, a reality that his approval rating among Thunder fans has never been so high if only because their only hope for staying near the top lies mostly on him and Durant.
Yet for all of Durant’s MVP-caliber talents, and for all those years worth of chatter about how the score-first Westbrook wasn’t the perfect complement to him in the Thunder backcourt, it’s clear they need each other. The do-or-die ways in which the Thunder need Westbrook were on display in the early goings here.
Sure, it was only two games, but this much is indisputable: after their three-point win over a rebuilding Utah Jazz team on Wednesday, their 100-81 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves was their worst since Feb. 20, 2011. The lopsided … [For more on Russell Westbrook return big for Thunder, click here.]